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Missing person reports way down in Whistler backcountry: RCMP

Sea to Sky RCMP present 2023 crime stats to SLRD officials, showing downward trend in assaults, steady number of vehicle incidents across rural areas
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Presenting 2023 crime stats to SLRD officials, the Sea to Sky RCMP said missing person reports were down 34% in the Whistler backcountry. // Photo by AscentXMedia / E+ /

Sea to Sky RCMP presented crime statistics for 2023 to officials last month, offering a bird's eye view of policing in the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District's (SLRD) rural areas. In the Whistler backcountry, one promising trend stood out: a steep decline in missing person reports. 

“We saw a significant decrease in our missing persons reports," said Staff Sgt. Gareth Bradley at the SLRD's March 28 Committee of the Whole meeting. "I'm probably going to attribute that to the milder weather we’ve had over the entire winter. It was favourable weather, so SAR calls are declining.”

For the year, 35 missing person reports were filed in the SLRD's Whistler rural zone, down from 53 in 2022, a 34-per-cent drop. 

While missing person reports were down in the backcountry, that didn't translate to a quieter year for Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR). WSAR reported this month that it responded to 92 calls in 2023-24, up from 88 the year prior. It marked the fourth year in a row the volunteer organization has seen an uptick in calls. 

Primarily a backcountry area covering a portion of SLRD Area C from Whistler to Pemberton, Bradley said crime figures in the Whistler zone were low across the board compared to the Sea to Sky RCMP's two other rural policing zones, though there were three assaults and four sex offences recorded. 

Bradley also noted Sea to Sky RCMP were looking at developing a backcountry policing model for the corridor, which the SLRD directors responded positively to.

Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman said he hoped Mounties would reach out to partner municipalities for help developing the model, particularly given important enforcement priorities such as wildfires, trash, and public safety in the expansive backcountry. Richman expressed a belief that the SLRD would support the RCMP in seeking grant funding to get the work done. 

The Pemberton rural zone, encompassing the majority of Area C, saw the most assaults of all three zones, with 21 incidents (down from 22 in 2022), and nine sex offences reported (up from three in 2022).

On sex offences, Bradley said the detachment was working to improve its partnership with social agencies on outreach and improve reporting. 

"Increased reporting is always welcome in these areas because we know it's highly under-reported,” Bradley said. 

There was also an increase in threats, to 13 reports, and extortion, with six cases reported. Harassment was down to eight instances.

In the Squamish rural zone, which includes Area D, violent crime trended downwards in 2023, “very typical of the area,” Bradley said. There were nine reported assaults last year, down from 12 in 2022, and one recorded sex offence for the year.

On the flipside, harassment was way up — 1,200 per cent — in the Squamish rural zone, rising from an admittedly small sample size of just one reported instance in 2022 to 13 last year. 

Bradley said police were digging deeper into the reason for that, noting harassment offences can include neighbour disputes and landlord-tenant issues.

Property crime was on the decline with only two reports of car theft, four break-and-enters (although police noted none took place at a residential property) and 11 cases of theft from a vehicle, down from 19 in 2022.

Fraud trended in the opposite direction, with 10 reported instances in 2023, up from four the year prior, a pattern RCMP has noted across the Sea to Sky, Bradley said. 

“These are fairly sophisticated text scams, email scams or even phone call scams of all different natures,” he added.

“They are very difficult to investigate, mostly because the offenders are [often] overseas, so it becomes a super complex investigation that doesn’t generally lead into charges … Seeing these trends, for the 2024 year, we’re going to look at education for folks across the region.”

Traffic numbers

Traffic offences varied widely across the three zones. 

In the Whistler rural zone, numbers were down, with 34 recorded vehicle incidents, down from 58 in 2022, and 13 impaired driving offences, down from 16. 

Pemberton rural saw higher numbers of traffic offences, at 88, but that was in line with the 90 offences recorded in 2022. The zone also counted 31 impaired drivers in 2023, up from 29. 

In Squamish rural, traffic offences were up across the board, with 80 vehicle incidents in 2023, a 19-per-cent uptick from the year before, and 20 impaired driving offences.

Bradley added that RCMP was also working on improving response and closure times on the highway following accidents. 

“We do what we can to divert traffic in an efficient way. It’s very dependent on how big the scene is when we have a major collision, but we do everything we can to get that highway open as fast as we can," he said. 

Whistler rural by comparison was down across the board, with 34 motor vehicle incidents (compared to 58 the year before), and 13 cases of impaired drivers (down from 16).

You can watch the RCMP update on the SLRD's YouTube channel


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